MONDAY, Dec. 5 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials used Monday, the start of National Influenza Vaccination Week, to urge Americans to get their flu shot before the season begins in earnest.
Since the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009, vaccination rates have increased for some people, especially pregnant women and children -- the two groups hit hardest hit by the pandemic. Right now, vaccine supplies are ample, but they could start to dwindle over the next few weeks, so officials are hoping more people will get their shot before Christmas.
"Flu vaccination is the essence of prevention, and prevention is the essence of public health," Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during a midday news conference.
The H1N1 flu outbreak led to a greater awareness of flu and the importance of vaccination, Koh noted. However, awareness and action are two different matters, he stressed.
"Flu remains a serious and unpredictable disease," Koh said. "Each year in the U.S. an estimated 5 to 20 percent of the population may be infected and more than 200,000 may be hospitalized during the flu season."
A flu shot is recommended for everyone aged 6 months and older, Koh said. The vaccine is particularly important for those at the highest risk of complications from the flu, including young children, pregnant women, seniors and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart or lung disease, he said.
"More than 130 million Americans have at least one chronic condition," he said, adding that serious complications from the flu can include dehydration, pneumonia and death.
Health care workers especially need to get vaccinated to protect their patients, their families and themselves, Koh said.
Before the H1N1 flu pandemic, only about 15 percent of pregnant women got a flu shot. "Last
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